Monday morning dawns cold. I think we are in for another long winter, like the last one, when the DC area got coated with eight inches of snow what seemed like every week. I spent more mornings digging my car out than I ever want to again. Mac arrives at my door right on time. We smile nervously at each other. She's hiding something, I know that look, but she won't tell me. I know that, too.
"So what did you do this weekend?" I ask, trying to sound casual.
"Watched some TV, cleaned my place out a bit. You should get a TV you know. It passes time well."
"I was thinking about that. If I get one, will you help me pick it out?"
She smiles. "I'd like that." Maybe there is a chance for us to return to normal. Normal for us, anyway. "So, what'd you do?"
"Read, mostly. No TV. Can't really clean. Although, I did do all my dishes."
She laughs softly. Yeah, there is hope for us.
We spend the morning at work and head home for the afternoon. Mac goes to her place and returns to mine to head up to Bethesda. When we arrive, I introduce her to Commander Nyland. The three of us spend a few minutes talking before I am kicked out. I wander out to the waiting room and pick up a magazine. I flip through it absently, wondering what the two of them are talking about. Me, probably, and what a fucked up person I am. I don't deserve Mac, but I don't think Webb does either. It turns out that I'm flipping through a Parenting magazine. Mac's words echo through my head. Webb is willing to give her the family she wants before it is too late. I think about that. I want a family and I want it with Mac. I'm just afraid. Afraid of losing her, of having kids and screwing them up, hurting both them and her. But she's right, if she waits too much longer, she'll never be able to have her own kids. I always will, but the older I get, the less likely it is to happen. My biological clock is ticking and I am starting to hear it loudly.
Suddenly, the door opens and Commander Nyland asks me back into the room. I am unprepared for what I see. Mac has tearstains on her cheeks. I don't know what could have been said in such a short time, but it apparently hit home with Mac. I'm probably right, it probably was about me. I am the one who went and hurt her. Again.
Commander Nyland sighs. "Well, I brought you in here to talk about what happened in Iraq. Since both of you went through it, I thought that talking to both of you would be helpful. Especially because neither of you seems willing to approach this outside of here on your own. Harm, you gave me a pretty good idea of what happened last time. Why don't you tell Mac what happened that led you into going after her."
I tell Mac of what we did, and didn't, do after she was captured. I told her that I was concerned for the other Marines, but mostly for her. I told her that I disobeyed orders to go in after her.
"And what did they do to you?" Mac asks.
"The broke my arm tying me down, punched me in the jaw. My ribs were cracked when one of them hit me with the gun. And the last blow to the head I remember getting, but I don't remember much after that."
Mac was pale. "Did they feed you?"
"No. They gave me water, but that was it."
She was visibly upset over what I was telling her. I wanted to take her hand in mine, hold her in my arms, but the three feet between our chairs felt like three miles.
"Now, Mac," Commander Nyland addresses her. "Pick up where Harm left off."
"They took me out of the cave. I remembered every twist, every turn, burned it into my memory. I knew then, that if I lived I'd be back to get you. They set me loose in the desert. I just walked straight away from the cave. Once I was out of sight of the cave, I was picked up by Marines. They hesitated at first, afraid it was a trap. They didn't want to get close to me only to have me shot. I slept some, ate little, just enough to gain some strength. I stayed at the command post. They said they couldn't go after you, called it a suicide mission. The Admiral wanted to send me home, but I refused. And I snapped one night. I just couldn't take it anymore. That was five days after we traded places. I grabbed some guns and left. The Admiral tried to stop me, but I went anyway. I shot my way in there. I was going to make it or die trying."
This was the first time I had heard Mac's side. It tore at my heart.
"Harm, is there anything you want to ask Mac?"
"When you were with them," I pause, unsure of how to finish.
She knew. "They fed me. I was kept with the others. We all knew when someone had been killed. We were just waiting our turn. But they fed us all. Some of the guys were beaten, for several reasons, but I was left alone. They eventually pulled me out and I thought it was my time, but I left with another group of men, alone. They took me to where you found me. The rest eventually joined up. I was the last one left."
"So, they didn't…" I swallow. I was most afraid of what I was about to ask. I knew Mac could take some physical abuse, but there is only so much that a soul can handle. "They didn't touch you?"
"They didn't rape me. Touched me, yes. I think it has been a while since any of them have been with a woman. And I won't say it wouldn't have gone that far, if you hadn't come. It might have."
I sigh with relief. She smiles. The first one since we got here.
"Now," Commander Nyland interrupts us, "both of you, why did you feel like you had to go in there after the other?"
I begin, "I didn't want her to die. I couldn't imagine my life without her. I was willing to give my life so that she may live."
Mac continues, "He's right. I didn't want him to die. Especially because of me. I can't think of what my life would be like without him. I, too, was willing to give my life so he could live."
Commander Nyland smiles.
I turn to Mac. "I meant what I said that night in the hospital, Mac. I'd rather die than live without you."
Her smile lights up her eyes. "So did I. I'd rather die than live without you."
I smile back at her.
"But, if you meant it, Harm, how come you didn't say anything about it again?"
"I didn't know if you would remember. Hell, I thought I dreamed the whole thing. Why didn't you?"
"The last time I pushed, I got rejected."
Sydney Harbor. "You remember that night you left for Paraguay?" I ask her.
"Why'd you leave so quickly?"
"I was pushing again. Or you were. All I know is that I had to get out of there, fast, before I got hurt again. I couldn't take it anymore. I'm tired of waiting, Harm. I needed you to know that. And walking away that night was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Walking away from you, leaving you behind, in the dark, without hearing what you had to say."
"Do you know that the whole time you were down there, I had nightmares about what would happen to you? I couldn't sleep at all. I was short with people at work and I must have drunk a gallon of coffee a day. I called Webb's mom, other people at the Agency to try and find you. I even went through a fake marriage to Katherine Gayle, the woman who worked with us on the Angelshark, in front of her mom to get inside. When you went missing, I flipped. The Admiral wouldn't give me leave or give me permission to go after you, so I quit. I typed up my letter of resignation and left."
"You never told me that. How'd you get back in?"
"The Admiral conveniently forgot to process my paperwork. That's why I was in the doghouse with him for a few weeks and why I lost leave time."
"Why didn't you tell me this?"
"Would it have mattered?"
"It might have."
"Webb." At the mention of his name, she turns away. This whole time we had been maintaining eye contact. "I saw you kiss him in the pickup truck that day. I tried to rationalize it, but then you were so worried about him that I just thought that maybe you took your cover as husband and wife a little bit further than just a cover."
Mac is quiet for a moment. "No. I was just worried about him. We went through a lot down there. We got closer, yes, but we had to. He was willing to kill for me. He was willing to die for me. He told me, early in the trip, that he was worried. He wished that he hadn't gotten me involved, that perhaps that time he had taken too many risks."
"His mother asked me if he was in love with you. She said you'd be fine if he was because he protects the ones he loves. When I said he wasn't, she said that was unfortunate."
Mac looks back at me. "He is in love with me, Harm. That's why he'd die for me. That's why when he was dying, when we were still so far away from a hospital and help for him, I had to kiss him. If he died and I had walked away from that, not given him anything, something in me would have died with him. It would have been cruel not to do it, not to give him some sort of comfort, something that would help him to hang on."
"So, there's nothing between you? That kiss didn't mean anything?" I'm thinking about the kiss I saw the other night before Webb left. I don't think she even knows I saw it.
Quietly, she says, "There doesn't have to be anything between us."
I sit with that for a moment, letting it all settle in. Before I can ask about Thursday night, Commander Nyland interrupts.
"There has been a lot to come out tonight. A lot of heavy stuff. I think we'll end it here, although, I do want to see both of you here again next week."
The two of us nod meekly. I think Mac was right on Friday when she said maybe this would help both of us. We rise and leave the office without saying a word. Once we are back in my SUV, Mac asks, "You want to go get some coffee?"
I have a feeling there is more that she wants to say. "Yeah."
She drives us back to DC and we stop at a Starbucks. Inside, we each cradle cups of steaming liquid, our fingers seeking the warmth. Finally, I ask her what has been bothering me since we left the Commander's office. "Is there something currently going on between you and Webb? Because," I pause, "I saw you and him last week. Kiss."
Mac looks sadly down at her cup. "Brumby was the last. The last man I went out with, the last man I kissed, the last…" she stops herself short before going on, "anything, other than you. We've gone out for dinner, never dates, and we shared that one kiss a few years ago under the mistletoe. Clay was there. He offered it and it has been so long, I took it. And I won't deny the fact that I enjoyed it. Kissing is a pleasurable activity. Especially with the right person." She looks up at me and meets my gaze.
She's right, as usual. Kissing is a pleasurable experience, especially with the right person. At her engagement party, that kiss has been burned into my soul and I will never forget it, the heat and passion we shared in those few stolen moments. "Would it go further than just kissing?"
Mac looks away again, tears in her eyes. "He called me on Saturday. We went out to dinner, returned to his place for a movie. We talked for a while before we started the movie. Part of the way through, we started kissing. Like teenagers, you know, making out at the movies. We didn't see the end of the movie because…" she stops and takes a tentative breath. My heart is racing and I'm angry, angry with her and Webb, but I have to hear the end of this. For Mac, I have to. "It went further than kissing."
"Mac-" I begin.
"Wait, Harm. Let me finish. He went to unbutton my pants and I know it would have felt good. I wanted it. Just the physicality of it. I'm so tired of being alone. But I couldn't, not with him." She pauses for a moment, looking at me, her teary eyes meeting mine. "For one simple reason."
"What?" I ask, calmer, knowing she didn't sleep with him.
"He wasn't you. I care about him, and maybe one day it could go beyond that, but right now, I can't do it with him. Clay isn't who I want. You are." She is still looking at me, our gazes connected. Through the tears in her eyes, I can see the truth. "I told Clay that I couldn't and he knew why. He accepted it. He gave me a shoulder to cry on and I talked to him about a lot of things, but mostly you. He's a good guy, Harm. He brought me blankets and pillows and set up a bed for me on his couch. He didn't want me to drive home in that condition. I spent the night, we ate breakfast in the morning, and then I went home."
I remove my hand from my cup and offer it to her. She takes it. I give her a light smile. "I guess I can't blame you for going to him. I understand the whole not being alone thing anymore. It has been a while here, too," I grin awkwardly. Talking about our sex lives has never really been something Mac and I have done.
Mac bites her lip and squeezes my hand. "Then let's do it, Harm. Let's go in this together. Let's not be alone anymore. That's why I had to come rescue you out there. I couldn't let you die and never let you know how much you mean to me. I wouldn't have lived if you had died."
"I wouldn't have either, Mac. That's why I went in after you."
She smiles at me. "I need to hear you say it, Harm. Actions are nice, but words are supposed to be the easier way."
"You want to hear that I love you?" I ask. She nods. "I do."
A tear escapes her eyes. "I'll take that for the time being."
"I love you, Harm."
We look at each other for a few moments longer, finish our drinks, and leave the coffee shop in silence.
Back at my place, Mac walks up with me. Once in my apartment, Mac looks around. "At least you've been doing your dishes."
"Yeah," I grin sheepishly.
"Have you been drinking anymore?"
"No. I ran out."
"Alcohol isn't the answer."
"It was better than any of the answers in my head that night. Unfortunately, the rest of my body didn't agree with my solution the next day."
"You did look pretty bad. The Admiral asked me if you were okay. I said you were just a little under the weather."
"Thanks," I say. We look nervously at each other, unsure of what to do.
"Well, it's been a long night. I'll just go home and I'll be back in the morning."
I walk her to the door. "Thanks, Mac, for everything over the last few months. For being here when I've been an ass, for being here when I've just needed someone, for saving my life, for everything."
Mac smiles. "You're more than welcome. The same goes for you, too. Thanks for everything, for saving my life, for being here when I've needed someone, and for being here when I've been a bitch." She pauses for a moment, contemplating. "But there is one more thing I want tonight."
"I'll see what I can do."
"I think you'll be fine. It may have been a while, but last I knew, you were pretty good at it."
"Okay," I smile. I think I know where this is going.
"I'd love to." We move slowly together, my arms wrap around her waist and her arms wrap around my shoulders. Our lips touch, lightly at first, tentatively, unsure. We grow stronger, more sure, more passionate. I pull her body closer to mine, touching lightly, as we kiss. My tongue slips out and I trace the seal around her lips. She parts hers and lets me in. Our tongues dance, becoming familiar with each other. I slide my hands up and run my fingers through her hair. She grips my neck, pulling me down, closer to her, pressing her body further against mine. To say that in this moment that fireworks exploded would have been a vast understatement. For the first time in a long time, perhaps in forever, all the pieces of my life fit. If the world were to end right now, I know I wouldn't care. I probably wouldn't even notice. I get the feeling that Mac would feel the same. Only when my lungs burn from the lack of oxygen and the need to breathe becomes unbearable, do I pull away.
"I told you you'd be fine," Mac says, grinning ear to ear, glowing. Her face is flushed and her hair is tousled. She has never looked more beautiful, or seductive.
I'm probably glowing as well. "And," I add, "if you don't want to take this any further right now, you had better go."
"As much as I'd like to, I think it would only complicate things," Mac agrees, still smiling. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Yeah," I agree. I pull her close for a quick kiss before she goes. I watch her leave down the stairwell. I could get used to this really easily.